Brain Science 3, Or: Fear

Noting that brain scientists have long ignored the feelings and emotions, the emotion that figures most prominently in Huther’s discussion of the brain is the one that lies at the root of the fight/flight response: fear. Fear, for Huther, can produce a disequilibrium in the brain; it is a state of extreme stress. The ability of the individual to deal with this feeling is determined primarily in the first year of life:

There are children who enter this world with much more fear than others. And there are children, who following their birth, encounter conditions that are not conducive to developing a sense of security. These children have less confidence than others about their ability to eliminate a a disturbance to their inner balance through their own efforts and with the help of their mother–and less confident that they can share their joy over this successful enterprise with her. There are psychologically disturbed mothers, immature mothers, unhappy and discontented mothers, insecure and fearful mothers who are plagued with self-doubt, moody and fickle mothers, overly self-centered mothers or mothers who are overly controlled by others.

Children who enter the world with an excess of fear or children whose nurturing (environment) is inadequate can and do develop what Huther calls “Defective Installations,” brain networks that allow the child to deal with the fear but in ways that make their responses to the world “one-sided.” Once a child has developed such a one sided coping strategy there is little hope that he or she will abandon it in later life with the consequence that he or she will cease in large part to be capable of continued development. He or she is stuck.

I don’t know that Huther has read any psychoanalysis but the conclusions he reaches remarkably resemble those psychoanalysts reached some 80 years ago by means other than cutting up the brains of rats.

In her “Our Inner Conflicts,” Karen Horney, for examples, writes of the “basic conflict” and those environment factors that can produce a “defective” response to that conflict:

A wide range of adverse factors in the environment can produce this insecurity [basic anxiety] in a child: direct or indirect domination, indifference, erratic behavior, lack of respect for the child’s individual needs, lack of real guidance, disparaging attitudes, too much admiration or the absence of it, lack of reliable warmth, having to take sides in parental disagreements, too much or too little responsibility, overprotection, isolation from other children, injustice, discrimination, upkept promises, hostile environment and so on and so on.

Horney continues:

Harassed by these daunting conditions, the child gropes for ways to keep going, ways to cope with this menacing world…. In doing so, he develops not only ad hoc strategies but last character trends which become part of his personality. I have called these “neurotic trends.”

One sided development or neurotic trends. Take your pick. In either case, the child becomes stuck and doomed to follow in the same rut for the rest of its life.

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